Poptop RVs or rigid-walled RVs - how to choose

Poptop RVs and rigid-walled RVs have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Here's help with choosing well to get the right one for you.

Trade-offs between rigid-walled RVs and poptop RVs

In any RV buying decision there are trade-offs. When choosing between rigid walls and poptops the trade-offs usually concern:

  • Overall weight - poptops are lighter, saving on fuel or allowing a greater payload of food, water or souvenirs etc
  • Height on the road - poptops are lower:
    • reducing drag and needing less fuel or allowing higher speeds or both. A rigid-walled travel trailer or caravan that is well-matched to the towing vehicle with a suitable airflow over the roof and around the sides may offer little more drag than a poptop
    • fitting into more places in town or out in the wilds. A poptop can get under branches in certain areas. However if you're traveling under these conditions, the risk of doing damage to a poptop or rigid vehicle through misjudging or not being able to see a low-hanging branch can be a problem. If your margin for error makes such a big difference between poptop RVs and a rigid-walled ones, you may be pushing the limits. And pushing the limits is what it's all about for some people.
  • The height of wardrobes, benches and cupboards - some poptops miss out here, others don't
  • The entry door is low on most poptop RVs and so you have to duck. Some are so low that it is easier to back out the door when leaving
  • Whether there is storage space around the top of the rigid part of the wall and how much of it. Poptops do not fare well here. The rigid wall on a poptop finishes quite low and this limits storage at the top
  • Top-heaviness: a poptop offers lighter weight up high where it really counts, particularly on a truck camper. Be aware that the extra rigidity of the solid-walled RV may encourage you to put extra weight on the roof. With many RVs this may not be a big issue. If you put a heavy air-conditioner or a bunch of solar panels up there, you may find that it makes the unit less stable on sloping tracks off-road. This can be a problem with some truck campers.
  • Views: you may get better views through the skirt of the poptop if it has plenty of clear windows, this is particularly important on truck campers with the bed over the cabin of the truck and in any RV when you are standing, such as when cooking. However, many poptops don't have good vision at eye level when you are sitting in the lounge or dining part of the RV because that is where the rigid part of the wall finishes and so there's no window there and the skirt doesn't have an opening that comes that low. You will find an RV with rigid walls or a poptop that suits you best in terms of vision, depending on your height and its height and the way they have put the windows in the skirt and the hard wall sections.
  • Setup time and take down time is usually minimal or none with a rigid and just a few minutes with poptop RVs
  • Ventilation: poptop RVs usually have much better cross flow ventilation on a hot night or a hot day, depending on the windows in the skirt
  • However, poptops usually miss out on insulation in the skirt and so a rigid-walled RV may provide better insulation and particularly be more cosy in cold weather
  • Height above the bed is particularly an issue in truck campers. Most rigid-walled truck campers are so low that unless you are a child you will have difficulty sitting up in bed. Poptops have much more height over the bed
  • A rigid-walled RV may provide more body stiffness which can help when driving off-road
  • And so it goes, there are probably many more characteristics that differ between the two types and some of them may be significant for you.

And remember, to get the best of the rigid-walled or poptop RVs, all you have to do is choose the things that matter to you and make sure that nothing conflicts too much with that.

The Poptop RV of the future?

Here's a note for any RV manufacturer who's interested, because I'm sure I'm not alone in this:

What I'd like is hard walls AND a poptop. Manufacturers who make this available for us regular RVers will find a new customer base: We want our comfort and security when camping without losing the benefits of low drag and better clearance on the road or track.

That means walls made of a similar material to the walls on a rigid-walled RV, but they collapse or fold as part of or separate from the roof raising and lowering.

When it is all folded down, it looks just like a poptop looks. When it is up, the solid walls look like a rigid-walled RV. The functionality falls between the rigid-walled RV and the skirted poptop.

For examples of hard-walled poptop RVs look at the A-shaped Chalet from the USA, the Australian A-van and some of the self-erecting truck campers and travel trailers or caravans such as the USA-made Rolite from the 1960s.

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